Irish fishermen have warned that a European ban on dumping dead fish at sea is the wrong tactic.
The Federation of Irish Fishermen (FIF) and the Irish South and West Fish Producers Organisation (ISWFO) said it is unrealistic to think that new rules on discards of small and juvenile fish could be enforced by January next year.
The EU deal will ban the dumping at sea of herring and whiting from January 2014 and white fish stocks in January 2016.
Eibhlin O’Sullivan, chief executive at the ISWFO, said fisheries chiefs should have been looking to prevent the catching of young fish to begin with.
“It’s still terribly vague. But we disagree with the approach from the start,” she said.
“They are starting with what to do with the discards, but we’d start with trying to avoid catching them in the first place – if the fish are dead on land or dead at sea they are still dead. From our perspective there’s a distinct lack of detail.”
Fishermen claim the 10-month run-in to implement the first ban on discards of small and juvenile herring and whiting is too short a timeframe.
The ISWFO claimed that fisheries chiefs should have been looking at a wider range of initiatives including real-time and seasonal closure of fishing, feeding and spawning grounds and more advanced variations in fishing gear such as net types, mesh sizes and escape hatches.
The FIF said it is important that the focus does not shift back to simply landing everything a trawler catches and warned it is naive to think that would solve the crisis.
Francis O’Donnell, FIF chairman, called for the focus to remain on the avoidance of catching juvenile or unwanted fish.
“The agreement is still a long way from the finished article,” he said.
The FIF said the issue of dumping dead fish at sea was highly complex and often driven by regulations and restricted quotas.
Mr O’Donnell added: “The discarding of fish is something all Irish fishermen want to avoid and the Irish industry has been extremely proactive in the use of selective measures to avoid and minimise catching juvenile and unwanted fish in the first instance.”
The groups also claimed that the agreement was not what MEPs had voted for in the European Parliament weeks ago.
The discard ban will extend to the main demersal stocks such as hake and monkfish in the North Sea and the north and south western waters from January 2016. Finally the discard ban will apply to fisheries in the Mediterranean, the Black Sea and all other EU waters on January 1, 2017.
Some of the biggest resistance to fisheries reforms on the scale demanded by MEPs came from France, Portugal and Spain.
Concessions have been granted for crews operating far from land in mixed fisheries where the cost of landing unwanted fish is too expensive. These boats will be allowed to discard 9%, shrinking to 7%.